The digital age we now live in has given us so much. Handheld devices we carry in our pockets make it possible for us to communicate instantly with people all over the globe, shop for the things we need, manage our finances, do our jobs, and so much more.
However, because the internet has become so intertwined with everything we do, it's also become a major hotbed for risk. Criminals looking to steal money or information (with the hope of stealing money) and threaten the security and stability of nations have more tools than ever to work their dark arts.
As a result, to protect their citizens, governments need to consider the threats coming from the cyber world and take steps to keep their citizens safe. Yet, as is often the case, some governments are better at doing this than others.
It's important to know which countries are doing well and which are not, as this will help make it easier for you to know the risks you face when you travel, and it's also a useful way to understand which strategies are effective and which ones are not.
To clarify things, we've put together this list of the ten most cyber secure countries and the ten least cyber secure countries.
Cybercrime Stats in 2020
Here are some stats about cybercrime in 2020 that help demonstrate just how severe this threat is and why it's critical to take steps to protect ourselves.
What Makes a Country Cyber Secure?
There are many elements to a cybersecurity strategy. When trying to compile an accurate ranking of the most and least cyber secure countries, it's essential to take a more holistic approach. To do this, we considered all of the following criteria to make our list:
This refers to the number of devices, both computers and mobile devices, such as phones and tablets infected with some sort of malware or virus. This number gives us a very clear indication of the cybersecurity climate in a particular country; the higher the infection rates, the less effective the measures being taken by the public and private sector are going to be.
As you will see, the difference between the best and worst countries can be quite staggering. To give you an idea, in the country we've deemed to be the best, France, 4.72 percent of its mobile devices are infected with malware. In the worst country on the list, Algeria, 22.88 percent of mobiles are infected. That's almost one in every four, a number that suggests there are serious holes in Algeria's cyber defense system.
Another thing to look at is the frequency with which people in a country are attacked and how attacks originate from a particular country. Typically, the higher the attack rate, the more likely it is for a device to get infected. High attack rates also indicate that a country might have too relaxed of an environment. In other words, cybercriminals don't feel as though there is a significant risk of getting caught and being stopped, so they attack with more frequency.
In this case, the variation among countries is not nearly as extreme save for a few exceptions. For example, 27.5 percent of Telnet attacks originate from China, which doesn't make it onto either top ten list but most definitely has some cybersecurity issues.
Interestingly, the United States, which ranks well overall, is the source of around 4 percent of Telnet attacks, which puts it firmly in the top ten in this category, proof that determining the best and worst countries for cybersecurity is much easier said than done.
Since cybercrime occurs exclusively on computers, phones, tablets, and other connected devices, a nation can only prevent it if it has the necessary infrastructure to do so.
This includes having the hardware and software to detect threats and mitigate them, but it also refers to access - if most people can't access these programs or aren't able to use them, they're pretty much useless.
A nation's defense system also refers to its people. To stay safe from cybercrime, a country needs to understand these threats and defend against them. This means having specific jobs related to cybersecurity and educational programs so that the field can continue to grow and recruit the talent needed to stay ahead of the curve.
A nation's laws have a dramatic impact on its ability to defend against cybercrime. On the most basic level, if a country does not recognize cybercrime for the threat that it is and either doesn't have strong punishments for it or doesn't enforce them, it will quickly become a haven for cybercriminals, leaving the average citizen exposed to tremendous risk.
But things need to go a step further. Laws need to be on the books that allow different government institutions to share resources and information so they can be more effective in fighting cybercrime. Law enforcement also needs to have the ability to effectively investigate instances of cybercrime to follow up on it and send a message to cybercriminals that they will not be able to get away with their illegal activity.
However, it's also essential that governments have laws that prevent them from going too far. At times, increased security comes at the cost of personal freedoms, which doesn't necessarily improve the overall digital landscape in a country.
As a result, the best countries in terms of cybersecurity have managed to strike a balance between giving the government the authority it needs to prevent and punish cybercrime without overstepping and infringing on personal privacy.
Governments should protect citizens, but each individual is also responsible for keeping themselves safe and not endangering others. When it comes to cybersecurity, this means that people need to know what to do to stay safe, identify and mitigate risks, and what to do if they become a victim.
Thus, the countries that are considered more cyber secure will have robust public awareness initiatives that aim to educate and inform citizens about the risks present when connecting to the internet.
Without this element of a cyber defense strategy, much of what a government does can quickly be rendered useless - all it takes is for one person to click on a suspicious link or fall for a phishing attempt for a system to be compromised.
Lastly, one of the biggest reasons cybercrime is such a big deal is that it knows no borders. Hackers can do their damage no matter where they are in the world, and to effectively prevent and protect against cybercrime, countries need to be willing to work together.
This means sharing resources when it comes to investigating potential cybercriminals, working together to identify and remove threats, teaching one another best practices, and whatever else it takes to keep cybercriminals at bay.
The many different factors that help determine the cybersecurity levels of certain countries are difficult to quantify. This means that each study conducted for this purpose will produce different results. Additionally, not all countries share data. The group performing the research did not have access to certain types of information from some countries, making getting a definitive result more challenging.
To try and get the most comprehensive view possible, we compared several different studies, such as this one by Comparitech, and other broader investigations, such as the Global Cybersecurity Index. We created our own separate ranking of the ten best and worst countries for cybersecurity that reflects the wide-ranging research being done to better understand how prepared the world is for the many cybersecurity threats it faces nearly every day.
The 5 Most Cyber Secure Countries
After looking at the many different studies done on the cybersecurity of nations around the world, we've determined the following five to be the best:
With an impressive effort in nearly all aspects of cybersecurity, France comes in as the most cyber-secure country on the planet.
Just 4.72 percent of mobile devices and 16.2 percent of computers are infected with malware. While those numbers are slightly higher than some of the other countries on this list, France makes up for its deficiencies with a robust legal framework and national organization that is well equipped to bring these numbers down and keep people safe.
France is also an active member of the international cybersecurity community, which helps it even more, and a tiny percentage of global Telnet attacks originate from France.
Overall, France stands out as the most cybersecure country in the world.
2. United States
More mobile phones are infected in the United States than in France (7.68 percent vs. 4.72 percent), but computer infection rates are much lower - 10.3 percent. In this sense, the two nations are very similar.
They are also similar because they both have robust national strategies that help keep them one a step ahead of the latest cybercrime trends. The United States is also far more cooperative than other nations when it comes to joining forces to fight cybercrime. However, like all nations on this list, it could be doing more.
It also has one of the world's strongest legal frameworks for preventing, investigating, and prosecuting cybercrime. Plus, it has some of the best technical know-how out there, helping to keep the United States near the top of this list.
The only thing keeping the United States from taking the top spot is that a disproportionate number of attacks originate within its borders (4.47 percent). Only Egypt, Brazil, and China account for more, something the US needs to shore up if it wants to move up in this ranking.
Japan has the lowest infection rates globally for mobile phones at just 1.34 percent, and the infection rate for computers (8.3 percent) is not far off from the top spot either. And if these were the only metrics we were using to determine the most cyber secure countries, Japan would likely have earned the top spot.
However, in Japan, the legal framework around cybersecurity leaves much to be desired. Out-of-date and unenforced laws make it difficult for the government to deal effectively with the threats it faces, and this is something that must be changed. Japan's technical defenses also need some work to help it be more effective.
Despite these shortcomings, Japan is still one of the safest digital countries in the world.
4. United Kingdom
Although its computer infection rates are higher - 10.2 percent - the UK's mobile infection rate is one of the lowest in the world at just 3.68 percent. The UK also has a strong legal framework and a solid technical infrastructure, both of which help it combat, prevent, and investigate cybercrime.
These systems all appear to be working quite well as the UK is home to just 1.07 percent of Telnet attacks. Not the lowest number out there, but certainly good enough to bolster the UK's cybersecurity reputation.
Perhaps the country's biggest shortcoming is its public outreach and capacity building potential. The UK is well-prepared against an attack from the top, but average citizens remain vulnerable unless they are given more tools to help themselves stay safe.
Singapore has below average infection rates and hosts a very low percentage of Telnet attacks - .14 percent. These results come from the nation's strong legal infrastructure and technical capacity, both of which received near top marks in the multiple studies we consulted.
Singapore also has some of the most effective strategies for reaching the public and engaging them as key stakeholders in the nation's cyber-defense. Something that is likely easier to do in a country with such a small population.
Considering Singapore's significance to the banking and other industrial sectors, the world is a better place because it makes it onto this list.
This list of five represents the countries that have put together the best, most comprehensive defense system against the many cyber threats out there. Here are some other countries that are also doing well that are sitting just outside the top five:
The 5 Least Cyber Secure Countries
With around 23 percent of mobile phones and 32 percent of computers infected, Algeria is one of the most dangerous places for digital life. Very few attacks originate from here, yet people are constantly subjected to them.
A big part of this is the near absence of any legal framework and weak technical infrastructure.
Citizens of Algeria and anyone traveling there will need to use additional measures to keep their devices protected while in the country.
Tanzania also has an extremely high mobile phone infection rate - 28.03 percent - but its computer infection rate of 14.7 is much more acceptable, although still relatively high.
Again, like Algeria, few attacks originate from Tanzania. However, an inadequate legal approach to cybercrime and a lack of resources to investigate and prevent it leave Tanzania as a hotspot for cybercriminals to do their worst.
A high computer infection rate - 21.3 percent - has helped land Uzbekistan on this list of the top five worst countries for cybersecurity. What's even more troubling is that 14 percent of the attacks occurring in Uzbekistan are from cryptominers.
Cryptomining, also known as cryptojacking, is when someone installs software on your computer and uses its resources to mine for cryptocurrency. This not only has a detrimental effect on your machine and exposes you to higher risk, but it's also a very shady practice within the world of cryptocurrency.
Uzbekistan's laws are slightly more up-to-date than the two countries ahead of it, but not by much. Couple this with lacking technical infrastructure, and Uzbekistan becomes a very unsafe place to be connected digitally.
Pakistan is in a similar situation, although its computer infection rate is even higher - around 31 percent. Mobile phones are infected at a rate of around 25 percent. That means one out of every five smartphones in Pakistan is infected with some sort of malware.
Cryptojackers are also more active than usual in Pakistan, although there are worse countries.
And lastly, as is often the norm with countries on this list, the legal and technical infrastructure needed to keep people safe simply isn't in place in Pakistan.
Although it has a mobile infection rate similar to some countries that made it onto the top ten best countries for cybersecurity - 9.62 percent - more than 20 percent of computers are infected. Nearly 9 percent of these attacks come from cryptojackers.
Vietnam's infrastructure is also not where it needs to be if it hopes to keep its people safe from the many threats they face online.
These five countries stand out as the ones facing the biggest cybersecurity challenges moving forward. However, many other countries need to address some issues to protect their citizens in this evermore digital world in which we live. The next five on the list are:
Tips for Staying Cyber Secure
As you can see, even in the countries deemed to be the most secure, there are still threats. That is the most troubling thing about the digital age - your location doesn't protect you. Of course, you will be safer in some countries more than others, but no matter where you are, be sure always to practice good cybersecurity habits, which includes:
· Using strong passwords that are hard to guess and contain numbers, capitals, and symbols.
· Installing anti-virus software on your computer to act as a front line of defense against cybercriminals.
· Be extremely cautious about where you click. If it seems suspicious, don't click!
· Make use of two-factor authentication wherever you can.
· Learn how to spot phishing and other internet scams.
· Install a VPN if you frequently browse on public WiFi.
· Keep all your software up to date by installing new versions as soon as they are made available.
If you follow these guidelines and keep yourself informed, you should be able to avoid most threats, even if you happen to be in a country whose defenses are considerably weaker.
We hope you now have a better idea of what the global cybersecurity landscape looks like and that you now understand better what makes one country more cyber secure than another. Of course, the best thing to do is avoid traveling to countries with inadequate defenses, but if you do find yourself in one of these places, make sure to commit to good digital habits, and you should be able to stay safe no matter where you are.